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Late goal helps Lightning's Cooper get a win in coaching debut

The SportsXchange

TAMPA, Fla. - Jon Cooper had no problem admitting how nervous he was, or how exhilarated.

His team had allowed a short-handed goal and a penalty shot score and had been behind by two goals twice.

And his team was down a goal with 15 second left in regulation in his first game as an NHL head coach.

Then one of the players he helped develop for the Tampa Bay Lightning stepped up to help make his debut "something I'm going to remember a long, long time."

Alex Killorn tied the game with 15 seconds left in the third period on Friday and the Lightning scored twice in a shootout to upend the New Jersey Devils at Tampa Bay Times Forum, 5-4.

"Wow," Cooper said, grinning and relieved in a postgame interview. "How about that?"

Killorn, who played for Cooper in the American Hockey League for two seasons, blistered a cross-slot pass from Steven Stamkos into an open net as Martin Brodeur was forced to respect Stamkos, the league's leading goal scorer.

Stamkos, who already had two goals, finished with three points after nabbing the assist in what was an odd game for the star. He missed two close-in scoring opportunities and committed a turnover that led to the short-handed goal.

"Everyone tends to think he is going to shoot it, so when he passes, the goalie tends to be out of position," Killorn said of the set up with Lightning goaltender Mathieu Garon pulled for an extra skater. "I just knew I had to get some wood on it and it would be in the back of the net."

Cooper felt the same way. It just took forever to happen from his vantage point.

"They were just zipping around and you get into those situations, it was almost like it happened in slow motion," Cooper said. "And you just saw it coming and it was like, 'Oh, my gosh, this might actually work out.' I was like, 'I think the net is wide open,' and time stood still the whole time."

Teddy Purcell and Victor Hedman scored in the shootout and Garon (21 saves) stopped both Devils attempts as Tampa Bay (15-8-1) extended its home win streak to four games and kept flickering playoff hopes alight. New Jersey is 15-11-8.

"It's disappointing when you're 15 seconds from getting two points, but at the same time, we put points in the bank and keep moving forward," said Devils coach Peter DeBoer.

New Jersey led 3-2 after a manic second period. The Devils scored on a penalty shot to regain the lead after wasting a two-goal margin.

"We need to be better, need to close out and make sure it doesn't happen again," the Devils' Andy Greene said.

The Devils took a 1-0 lead at 14:10 when Andrei Loktionov beat Keith Aulie to the net and tipped in a Matt D'Agostini blast from the left faceoff circle. New Jersey maintained pressure after the breakthrough and earned a penalty shot with 6:41 left when Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman was whistled for hooking Tom Kostopoulos. Kostopoulos beat Garon for a two-goal lead with his first score of the season.

Tampa Bay completely reversed the momentum with increased speed and pressure, however, halving the lead with 12 minutes left as Stamkos scooped in a chip pass from Martin St. Louis.

The Lightning tied the score, 2-2, less than three minutes later when Nate Thompson burst between defensemen Peter Harrold and Anton Volchenkov to retrieve a wayward puck in New Jersey's defensive end. Thompson then beat a defenseless Brodeur (21 saves) for his seventh goal of the season.

The Devils responded with a power play goal by Greene with 6:02 left to retake the lead. But they failed to exploit two more power plays and barely avoided allowing a short-hander with 3:07 left as Lightning rookie Cory Conacher had a close-range flip glance off the pipe.

In the third period, New Jersey produced its league-high ninth short-hander to give it a 4-2 with 17:21 left in the game. That goal came when Ryan Carter took an errant pass at the blue line, evaded defenseman Sami Salo and notched his fourth of the season.

Stamkos scored five minutes later by taking a pass from Killorn and firing through Brodeur's skates to cut the margin to 4-3.

"It was huge confidence-wise for Coop," Killorn said of the win. "I think it just shows the confidence a lot of guys have in him, the swagger he has. We all kind of rallied behind him."

NOTES: Stamkos is on pace to score 35 goals this season and would be on pace for 60 goals in an 82-game schedule. ... Thompson has scored in all three games against the Devils this season, and four of his seven goals have come against New Jersey. ... The Lightning won for the first time this season via shootout. ... Cooper coached nine members of the current Lightning roster in the American Hockey League. ... St. Louis has registered points in 13 of his last 15 games (four goals, 15 assists). ... New Jersey leads the NHL with nine short-handed goals. Ilya Kovalchuk, who leads the league with four, missed his second straight game. Kovalchuk is expected to miss at least two weeks after injuring a shoulder falling without contact against Florida on March 23. ... Alexei Ponikarovsky, Bryce Salvador and Stephen Gionta rejoined the Devils after missing time with injuries. Ponikarovsky had missed three games with a lower body ailment. Salvador and Gionta left Monday's game with Ottawa in the first period.
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